Wood Brothers Racing has won the first quarter National Motorsports Press Association Pocono Spirit Award for charitable work in helping seniors in and around its home base of Stuart, Virginia.
The organization spearheaded a campaign to provide COVID-19 quarantined seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities — including Landmark Center and the Blue Ridge Therapy Center in Stuart, and 10 other facilities in the region — with electronic tablets to allow residents to communicate with family members.
Starting with $1,500 in seed funding, Wood Brothers Racing began a crowdfunding effort that raised $33,000 from contributions of $10 or more. That funding paid for 220 tablets for residents in those 12 facilities. More than 1,100 individuals contributed to the fundraising effort.
“We were shocked at the response we got,” Wood Brothers Racing senior vice president Jon Wood said in a statement. “I think everyone has some connection with a senior and many of those are in facilities that are affected.
“What we didn’t anticipate was the huge number of people wanting to contribute, and it just shows that we aren’t all that divided in a time of crisis.
“It was extremely gratifying to hear the stories since, how this helped ease some of the anxiety and stress from both the residents and the families. These people did nothing wrong. They managed to do something right in fact, that being to live to an age where they needed help, and so it seemed unfair for them to be cut off from the very people that give them comfort.
“Unfair because they were being protected from something many of them didn’t understand or weren’t able to fully grasp and the way they were going about being protected only added to their fears and frustrations. This just helped alleviate some of that, so in every way I can think of, it was a total success.”
Others receiving votes were:
* The Joey Logano Foundation, which teamed with Bobbee O’s BBQ and Elevation Church to provide free meals to children under 18 years old over a two-week period.
* Steve Myers, executive vice president and executive producer of iRacing, for spearheading an effort to bring virtual racing competition to a national audience during the pandemic.
* General Motors, which ramped up its assembly lines to produce personal protective gear for front-line workers and ventilators for patients in critical need during the pandemic.
The Pocono Spirit Award is voted upon by NMPA membership.
👍🏼 the truth is all 1100 people that donated deserve the thanks (including the awesome dude below). We were just the middle man. Everyone who took the time to donate deserves the credit and thanks. 👏🏻 https://t.co/G7qksiLzjL
Ray Lee Wood, one of the original members of Wood Brothers Racing, died this week at the age of 92.
The third son of J. Walter and Ada Wood, Ray Lee joined his brothers, Glen, Clay, Delano and Leonard, in forming NASCAR’s longest running race team in the early 1950s. He was part of the efforts that would win the 1963 Daytona 500, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 and the inaugural American 500 at North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham in 1965.
Wood changed the front tires and helped prep the cars that were driven by Glen and other NASCAR legends.
He took his turn behind the wheel as well. In 1958, on the sands of Daytona Beach, Ray Lee hit 142 miles per hour on the measured mile in a hopped-up street car, topping the speed chart for that day.
“Ray Lee could have been a race driver as well as Glen,” Leonard Wood said in a media release.
When the Wood Brothers won the car owner’s championship in 1963, Ray Lee was the listed car owner of record and the championship trophy bears his name.
Ray Lee felt “the calling of the Lord” in 1965 and he left racing behind at the end of the year, but not before Curtis Turner won in Ray Lee’s final race with the team on Oct. 31 at Rockingham.
“Ray never went back to the track after 1965, but he supported us all the way and always followed our races on the radio or TV,” Leonard Wood said. “He was a great brother and a great all-around person.
“I can’t say enough good words about him.”
RIP Ray Lee Wood! So amazing how talented each and every member of the Wood family is and what a legacy they built together. Thoughts and prayers to the whole family! https://t.co/DfDNn84Eqg
No greater authority than Richard Petty, a winner at Martinsville Speedway a record 15 times himself, put the seal of approval on John Andretti’s stirring Cup win at the historic half-mile track on April 18, 1999.
“It looked like the good old times,” Petty said.
Andretti overcame an early spin that put him a lap down and charged past Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton in the final laps to win. Andretti completed a sweep for Petty Enterprises that weekend after Jimmy Hensley won the Truck race for the team the day before. Andretti’s win marked the first Cup victory for Petty Enterprises at Martinsville in 20 years.
Andretti started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap and began working his way through the field.
A key moment came when the field pitted on Lap 383 of the 500-lap race. Andretti entered 11th and exited fourth after taking two tires. He trailed only Gordon, Mark Martin and Burton.
“I’d been begging for (two tires) all day because I wanted track position, and I wanted to get up there and fight,” Andretti said that day.
Said Gordon afterward: “I’m sure he didn’t take two tires at the end. There’s no way.”
Andretti was third with 50 laps to go, trailing only Gordon and Burton. Andretti passed Gordon for second with 12 laps to go. That left only Andretti’s close friend, Burton, for the win. Andretti charged while ignoring a vibration with the car.
Andretti ran underneath Burton on Lap 494 and they ran side by side for much of two laps before Andretti got by.
“I’ll never forget coming around and taking the checkered flag at Martinsville,” Andretti said that day.
Leonard Wood has been to a lot of race tracks and seen a lot of things.
Sixty years ago this weekend, he stood near the guardrail at Bowman Gray Stadium and watched his brother, Glen Wood, beat a handful of fellow future NASCAR Hall of Famers to earn Wood Brothers Racing’s first Cup Series win.
In a sign of the times, Glen led all 200 laps around the short track in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, nicknamed “The Madhouse.”
“I watched (Glen) run and enjoyed how he was in and out of traffic, working traffic and leading every lap of it. So fun to watch your brother go out and beat everybody like that,” Leonard told NBC Sports. “You could just come right to the guardrail and watch them come in. I learned more about handling at Bowman Gray than any other one race track because you’d stand at that guardrail and watch the car come in the corner, you’d watch it drive through the middle and then you’d watch it drive off.
“The changes you’d make, (you’d see) right in front of your eyes. You could see the suspension and how it worked. Great place to learn as a young kind trying to figure it all out.”
The brothers from Stuart, Virginia, had been visiting the track since the early 50s, competing in modifieds, convertibles and NASCAR’s top division.
Leonard detailed his brother’s driving style that helped him lead every lap that day and in two more Grand National races at Bowman Gray that year, on June 25 and Aug. 23, for a total of 600 laps led.
“(Glen) had just a technique of how he passed on the outside,” Leonard said. “What he would do (is get his) left-front fender up to the outside of (the other car’s) right-rear fender and he’d hold it tight against the guy.
“(Glen) wouldn’t be like a foot or two away from him. He’d hold it tight against him to even touching him. When he’d come off the corner, he’d inch up another foot. Then the next lap he’d inch up another foot and then once he got up beside of him, he’d just blend out and away he went. Just give a guy all the room he needs, but to hold it tight against him, it kind of messes him up too, it slows him down.”
Using that method in the April 18 race, Glen beat Rex White, Jimmy Massey, Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett. In June, he beat Lee Petty and White. In August, he topped Lee Petty and Junior Johnson as he lapped the field.
By the time Glen retired from racing a few years later, he had 29 wins at Bowman Gray in modifieds, convertibles and the Cup Series.
Another level to Glen’s dominance at “The Madhouse” in 1960 is what the Woods were competing against.
Their blue Ford Fairlane, which had the No. 16 on it, had a bolt-on hard top which could be removed to transform it into the convertible it spent most of its time as.
While they were racing a 1958 Ford, every other driver in the top five of the April race was piloting a 1959 or 1960 model car.
To emphasize how well that No. 16 performed, Leonard recalled a visit with it to Martinsville Speedway.
Glen was pulling out of the pits when Marvin Panch drove by in a 1959 Ford. Panch passed him going down the backstretch. With Glen still on his warm-up lap and Panch exiting Turn 2, Glen caught him and passed him on the backstretch.
There were two keys to the car’s power. One was its lightness, a product of the Woods tending to build their cars from the remains of vehicles that had been in fires, which burned the heavy soundproofing materials located in the door panels.
Second, it was a low rider.
“Nobody really seemed to think about how low you could get your car,” Leonard said. “We had it just as low as you could get it suspension-wise. There was no limit, you know with the height rule. … I always liked it as low as we could get it.”
Sixty years and 98 Cup wins later, the Wood Brothers are synonymous with with the No. 21 on the side of their Ford cars. But they wouldn’t take that numeral to Victory Lane for the first time in the Cup Series until six months later when Speedy Thompson won at Charlotte Motor Speedway for their first speedway win.
Leonard explained how the No. 21 became their permanent number (aside from using the No. 7 in 1986 as part of a 7-11 sponsorship).
The first race car they ever had was labeled with the No. 50. But after being involved in a wreck that burned the car, they rebuilt it and placed the No. 16 on it, the number Glen won with in 1960.
“When we started running convertibles, we was running 22,” Leonard said. “Fireball Roberts had the hard top running the 22. When they’re running (convertibles and hard tops) together, the convertible had to change the number. The hardtops had priority. So we put 21 on it and left it.”
While there was no sentiment behind the decision that led to the No. 21 becoming one of NASCAR’s most iconic numbers, Leonard got a little sentimental when asked if it felt like six decades had passed since the Wood Brothers’ first Cup win.
“In some ways it does, in some it don’t,” he said. “It feels like it’s been a long time. I get to looking at things, looking at the (team) museum (in Stuart, Virginia), the history of the Wood Brothers and just think everyday about Glen and I, how much fun we had and what all we did starting out. You didn’t have a lot of money and you just had to make your parts … just how far we’ve come since we started.”
There’s no racing going on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not keeping Leonard from staying active at home.
“I design remote control cars,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for a long time. I’m catching up on a lot of that right now.”
Like the cars he tinkered with in his days at Bowman Gray Stadium, they have quite a bit of power. His 1/10th scale cars “run like 70 mph … Like full 2.5 horsepower. That’s a lot of horsepower for a little car.”
With COVID-19 being particularly harmful to people in his age range, the 85-year-old former crew chief “don’t want to take no chances on that.”
Whenever he goes out, Leonard wears a double-canistered mask, “like you use at a paint booth.
“If I have to go out to get groceries, post office or bank or anything, I put a double-canistered mask on. Whenever I take it off, I spray it with Lysol.
“Another thought is, if you go somewhere and you’re a little worried about where you been, spray the inside of your car with Lysol and close the doors when you park it.”
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of my career racing in the NASCAR Cup Series and I’m so thankful for all the great memories and friendships I’ve made through this sport,” Menard said in a press release. “But I’m looking forward to spending more time at home with my wife Jennifer and our two young children while moving forward with the next chapter of my life.
“I want to thank everyone at Wood Brothers Racing, along with Team Penske, and our partners at Menards, Motorcraft, Quick Lane Tire & Auto Centers and Ford. It’s been a privilege to work with them and some of the true legends of our sport, including Andy Petree, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Robert Yates, Richard Petty, Richard Childress, Roger Penske and Glen and Leonard Wood. I’m excited for what the future holds and I’m looking forward to sharing the plans for 2020 and beyond in the coming weeks.”
Said DiBenedetto in a statement: “I am so excited about this opportunity to race for one of the most successful teams in NASCAR history beginning in 2020. The No. 21 Ford is one of the most accomplished and iconic cars in our sport and it will be an honor to join Wood Brothers Racing and help carry on the team’s tradition of success in NASCAR. I want to thank Eddie and Len Wood, Kim Wood Hall, Menards, Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company for this opportunity.”
DiBenedetto, 28, is in his fifth season of Cup competition. Sunday’s Brickyard 400 was his 166th start. He has six top-10 finishes, including three top fives this season. All of those have come in the last 11 races. One of his top fives was a runner-up finish in the Bristol night race, where he led a race-high 93 laps but lost to Denny Hamlin.
DiBenedetto will be a guest on NASCAR America MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN.
“We want to thank Paul Menard for his dedication to the team over the last two seasons,” said team President and co-owner Eddie Wood in a statement. “We’re looking forward to a strong finish to 2019 and we wish him nothing but the best for the future. All of us at Wood Brothers Racing are excited to welcome Matt DiBenedetto to the team beginning next season. Matt has shown a lot of promise on track and everyone has seen it in his results this season, especially over the past several months. We want to continue to build on that success together as we gear up for 2020 and the future of Wood Brothers Racing.”
Later in a press conference, Menard said he expected Menards to remain as a full sponsor on the No. 21 and Ryan Blaney‘s No. 12 car.